Educating Potential

Kids’ inner voices

I’m having a lovely weekend with a friend who is expecting her first baby this summer. My friend and her husband are in the process of name selection and she was sharing with me the challenge she is having figuring out how to have the name reflect both her and her husband’s family. It is a struggle I think many of us have had, as more women elect to keep their maiden names after getting married. Whose last name does the baby get? Do you hyphenate and let the child make the hard choice about which name to keep when he grows up? Do you have one parent’s last name be the middle name knowing that most people don’t use their middle name, thereby making that name less important? Do you make up a new name? It’s a bit mind-boggling.

All things being equal, my friend’s husband would like the baby to have his name; but if my friend feels strongly about it, he would be OK letting the baby have her name. At one point my friend noted that part of her struggle was trying to make sure that she was not allowing her own strong feelings about her own name, her feelings about gender politics and a concern about her reputation in the field seep into a decision about her child’s name. She said, “If I feel really strongly about the name for my own reasons then I would be OK telling [my husband] the baby should have my name. But if what is driving me is a concern that other people would think I am copping out then I think I would be OK with the baby taking his name.” But, she said, it was really hard to separate out the two things.

We often use phrases like “listen to your gut” or “follow your heart” but we don’t often admit how hard it is hear our personal voice amidst the cacophony of other voices in our heads. When I think about this in relationship to parenting, it makes me wonder whether I am doing a good job of allowing my children to hear, trust and follow their own inner voices. I’m very mindful of it with food, where I decided early on to ignore my obviously unfounded concern about whether they are eating enough and to allow them to follow their bodies’ message about hunger levels. I do it because we know that people who do not have the ability to do this can often end up with some type of disorder in relationship to food.

Yet, when it comes to my boys’ knowing their own likes, dislikes, preferences, interests, etc. I am not as aware of whether I support them in following their inner selves. I think I know more about the world, about what skills and capabilities are most likely to lead to a good social and professional life than they do. I want to help them make good decisions today that will expand their horizons and their opportunities down the road. So, as I think about the summer I find myself leaning towards a math enrichment program even as my older son asks about cooking classes. I worry because my younger son doesn’t want to join a hip hop dance class even though I think he has a real sense of movement and could be really good at it. I know other parents are having the same thoughts about their children.

Of course, they are only 6 and 8, so the choices they are making right now are hardly life-changing. So does it really matter? I know a lot of people that I went to graduate school with and have worked with over the years who don’t find a lot of satisfaction in how they spend their hours and their days.

These are smart, motivated individuals who spent school and college jumping through hoops that other people set out for them: AP exams, the SATs, triple majors, prestigious scholarships, awards for music, community service, leadership – you name it. Yet, when it came to figuring out what they wanted to do, it seems as though many drifted into the usual pathways: law school, business school, banking, consulting.

I am sure some were happy about those choices. But I noticed that as many of these people entered their thirties and forties and began the process of evaluating where they were, a lot of them found their lives lacking. Yet, for many of them the path forward wasn’t clear. They knew they wanted to something different – they just weren’t sure what.

Thank goodness for the self-help industry and the thousands of career and life coaches that are waiting in the wings to help folks re-find their sense of self and purpose. I can’t help but wonder whether, if those friends and colleagues had been encouraged to listen to themselves more and listen to the expectations and ideas of others less, their paths may have looked different. So as I go back to the work of choosing summer camps maybe I will look into that cooking course.

Because if my boys never learn to listen to themselves about the small things now, it’s less likely they will be capable of finding the selves they need to listen to when it comes to the bigger things later on down the line.

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